BUSHELL ON THE BOX
*This is an edited version of my TV column. The real thing, plus contests, goofs, lookalike pictures and more, can be found each Sunday only in the Daily Star Sunday.
Sept 24. AMANDA Holden’s Sex: A Bonkers History divided viewers like Roman orgies divided legs. While men reached urgently for fast-forward, women wanted it to last a whole lot longer... Co-hosted by historian Dan Jones, the show was Horrible Histories meets Frankie Howard’s Lurcio without the wit of either. Educational though. We learned that Egyptian Viagra involved covering the old, ahem, Cleopatra’s needle with a mixture of crushed pine nuts, honey and hot pepper seeds... which must sting like a swarm of Asian hornets. It might also be what Amanda uses instead of Botox these days. Cleo carried on with whoever she thought would strengthen her rule. She married and killed her two brothers and probably invented the Nile High Club. In Rome, randy Empress Messalina challenged Scylla, a local hooker, to an all-night shagging contest, beating her by 25 to 24. A tally unequalled until Janine Butcher hit Walford.
The humping history lessons came with chronic comic skits – cue Dan enacting “Blindicus Datus” with three emperors in drag. Julius Caesar saw more action than a gladiator’s sword. Nero married three women and two men. He had his male “bride” castrated but wore a dress for his next wedding and was “deflowered” in public. And you thought he only liked a quick fiddle... Holden, in saucy “Carry on Mandy” mode, gamely watched modern gladiators – amateur boxers – to see if fighting turned her on. “I went down,” she gasped, but was only talking about her heart rate.
Amanda went to Selhurst Park, pointlessly, to toss javelins – careful – like a Spartan. Her Pompeiian erotic art exhibition display titillated, but she swerved taking part in tantric sex yoga so, sadly, her golden buzzer went untested. Still to come: Tudors, Victorians and Danny Cipriani.
*QUESTIONS arising: did Egyptians do it with their mummies? Did Cleo do it shaking her asp? Did Messalina and Scylla start the Whores Of The Year show? And did Caesar ever say, “I came, I’m sore, I conked out”?
WHERE do ITV’s Saturday Kitchen find their highfalutin chefs? Last weekend, Richard Bainbridge made grilled aubergine with miso (you must have some of that left in the back of your fridge!), vinaigrette and pickled plums. He then mentioned fig leaves, saying that if you were out and about you could probably pick one from a tree. Ah yes, perhaps in the famous fig forest of Oldham, not far from Salford’s select shiso spinney... I preferred TV cooking shows when the only pickled plum was the chef.
WHAT can you say about Russell Brand that hasn’t been said about piles and syphilis? I filmed a show with him in 2006 and found him self-absorbed and distant. But he had charisma and a real way with words – part rock’n’roller, part Dickensian urchin. Not my cuppa tea as a comedian, but Brand seemed destined for stardom, and inevitably self-destruction. Ironically Channel 4, who helped build him, may have taken him down with their Dispatches special. Their allegations will have surprised anyone who hadn’t read his book or seen his stage act. Sex-crazed libertine is sex-crazed libertine, shock. I’m not trivialising anything. I wouldn’t have wanted him anywhere near my daughters when they were 16 and he was 30. Opinion instantly split between those who wanted him cancelled without trial and those who thought the doc was politically motivated. Whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty?
HOT on TV: Winning Time finale (SkyAt)... Arena: Hank Williams, Honky Tonk Blues (BBC4)
ROT on TV: Alan Carr’s Picture Slam – another Carr crash... Celebrity Help! My House Is Haunted – bring on the poltergeists.
WE could’ve done without poncy art historian Andrew Graham-Dixon, but George Michael: Portrait Of An Artist was a fine tribute to Finchley’s greatest son. The great Stevie Wonder was among the admirers offering insights into his stellar talent. “I felt the cry in his voice,” he said. Like Geo, the doc – directed by former Wham! manager Simon Napier-Bell – strove a little too hard for gravity, but still painted a fine, nuanced portrait of a true star. Where the hell was Ridgeley?
AS YET more pubs are taxed to death, here are seven TV boozers I’d love to drink in: The Winchester Club (Minder), The Nag’s Head (Only Fools), Rover’s Return (Corrie), The Skinner’s Arms (Steptoe), Two Ways Inn (Rab C. Nesbitt), The Clansman (Still Game), The Grapes (Early Doors). The Queen Vic is disqualified for unacceptably high rates of death, rows and arson.
*COMING next from ITV: My Mum, Your Dad, Her Gran, His Twins & Next Door’s Lodger... the dating show for swingers.
*BBC2’s Ted Heath doc reminded us how the sulky PM fought the 1974 general election on the question: who governs Britain? Voters thought about it long and hard, and delivered their verdict – not you, mate.
*SHOULD the collective noun for politicians be a failure?
*WHAT washes whiter, Vanish or the FCA?
Small Joys of TV: The Best Of Saint & Greavsie (ITV4). Ken Dodd: How Tickled We Were (BBC4). Coronation Street: Memorable Moments. The Rookie (Pick).
Random Irritations. Married At First Sight UK – just say “I don’t”. Jumped-up weatherman Alex Beresford. Use of the ugly American “gotten” instead of got in UK dramas.
Separated at birth: Alan Carr and Bingo? One an over-stuffed muppet with a painful voice and tombstone teeth, the other was in the Banana Splits.
Classic clanger. John Motson was commentating on Antonia Valencia’s passes for Man Utd, when he said: “Valencia’s very long balls make him quite a handful.”
Sept 17. “IS Davina off the table?” joked widower Roger on over-40s dating show My Mum, Your Dad. Off the table, on the table, under the table, up the stairs... she’s pretty flexible, I’d imagine. ITV call the show “middle-aged Love Island”. Love-Handles Island might be more accurate. But unlike the younger, randier original, this manages to be genuinely moving. The contestants are single parents – divorced, widowed or scarred by betrayal – whose grown-up kids are plotting to put romance back into their lives. You felt for Roger, a postman with a playful wit and piercing blue eyes, whose wife lost her cancer battle 18 months before. They’d been together 37 years, he said, joking, “For a year and a half we were happy.” Caroline took an early shine to him, but it was obvious from day one that he was still grieving. And that his dating judgement was rusty – he told Cazza he cleans his dog’s teeth with his own toothbrush. “Oh dad,” said his exasperated daughter, Jess.
Unbeknown to all of them, their children are secretly watching everything they do from The Bunker. Clayton seemed the most confident bloke, until the two towering alpha-male Martins rocked up. “You don’t want seven years of bad sex, do you?” Clayton asked glam date Natalie after clinking glasses on a picnic date. He then brushed an imaginary insect off her shoulder saying he should bite her first. Nat was more impressed by Paul on their weird paddleboat yoga date. Unlike Love Island, these middle-aged hopefuls really are searching for a life partner. Emotions are running high. A Davina hug may well become this show’s equivalent of the Hollywood handshake. ITV did their usual trick of sending in extra contestants to stir the pot. What odds they’ll have a room full of exes giving a running commentary next series?
*IF nice guy Roger pulls will he use black condoms, to signify he’s still in mourning?
*COMING next: trans-friendly dating show My Mum Was Your Dad...
BAFTA scrapping its children’s awards, sends the wrong message about the value of kids’ TV. Modern hits like Bluey and Pip & Posy pack in important life lessons, and CBeebies’ Numberblocks – also a YouTube hit – teaches kids about maths. What you watch as a child stays with you all your life. I’m old enough to remember The Adventures Of Twizzle and Torchy The Battery Boy. People in their fifties get sentimental about Bagpuss and Mr Benn. And so it goes. From Sesame Street to LazyTown, and from Camberwick Green to Bob The Builder, kids TV is a well of nostalgic, often educational delights. Don’t marginalise it, Bafta, embrace it!
*My Top 7 Kids shows: Fireball XL5. Top Cat. Captain Pugwash. Noggin The Nog. The Flintstones. Stingray. The Magic Roundabout.
FOR bad-tempered bitching and backstabbing, you couldn’t do better than Laura Kuenssberg: State Of Chaos. Her mix of MPs, ex-Ministers and civil servants showed us how the vote to quit the EU was nobbled from day one. Talking heads snapped like rats in a sack. Words like “disgraceful”, “hypocritical” and “betrayal” were tossed about. Jungle plonker Matt Hancock accused cunning Dominic Cummings of lying. And as for civil service impartiality, Brexit-era Foreign Office head “Lord” McDonald admitted boasting to his staff that he’d voted Remain (and was last seen merrily waving the EU flag at the Proms). Inept Tory Leavers hadn’t expected to win and didn’t have a Scooby what to do, while Remoaners conspired to water down our independence. Result? We’re largely out with the tip left in. A sexual position that should henceforth be known as the Boris.
HOT on TV: Lise Davidsen, Proms... Ta’Nika Gibson, Winning Times... It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia (Netflix)
ROT on TV: Domina – I, Bored-ius... Matt Hancock’s TV return – as welcome as Asian hornets... The Great Flood Of 2007 – a wash-out.
WAS Jamie Oliver auditioning for Celebrity Wife Swap on Jamie Cooks The Med? Praising Greek meze grub, he gushed, “In the UK you have to commit to one dish – like a marriage. With meze you can take a risk a try different things.” Watch out, Jools.
*JAMIE told us “I’d rather give you the touch and feel”. He was talking about weights and measures but blimey. Would a cold shower help?
*THE triple lock is unsustainable, say MPs. But if they could instal one on Spuddz’s underwear it’d save a whole lot of heartache. They could do with a few on Screw too.
*VANESSA Feltz revealed she was known as “Vanessa The Undresser” at school. Yeah? She’s Vanessa The Depresser now.
*WHAT cracking dancing last night. And as well as Tonga rugby’s Sipi Tau, I understand Strictly is back.
Small Joys of TV: Roisin Gallagher, The Lovers. My Mum, Your Dad – more tender than Tinder. The twists on Inheritance. Discovering Westerns On Film (SkyArts).
Random Irritations. The new series of The Morning Show – too much whingeing, not enough laughs. Jamie Oliver over-praising everything – even cooked grapes.
TV Maths. Jeremy Beadle + Jethro = Joe Fagin, RIP.
TV quiz. Who said, “Every plum is massaged, no wonder they taste so good?” Was it a) Jamie Oliver or b) Lottie Moss, Celebs Go Dating?
Sept 10. THESE big glitzy telly award nights need a proper comic at the helm – Ricky Gervais or Graham Norton, , or at least a sweary Education Minister. Otherwise they turn into hour after tedious hour of luvvie backslapping. Instead. the NTAs booked Joel Dormett, an animated shop window dummy with a Colgate smile who looks the business, promises much and delivers little. Much like the night itself. Nice guy, sure. But comedian? Joel’s gags were so lame they wouldn’t even qualify for Dave’s Funniest Joke Of The Fringe award. Lenny Henry got the first laugh, quipping “I’ll make this quick, I don’t know what concrete they used to build this place.”
Deserving winners included Happy Valley (the show, not Maya Jama’s cleavage) and the surprisingly grand Sarah Lancashire. Sally Wainwright’s gripping crime saga is one of modern TV’s finest achievements, and Sgt Catherine Cawood is a stunning creation. Streetwise and smart. Her battle with psycho Tommy Lee Royce captivated millions. But why were Cawood and Vera competing against supernatural fantasy thriller Stranger Things? (The only strange thing about Vera is the box-ticking casting.)
The categories are potty. Gritty, realistic Blue Lights lost to comic horror Wednesday. It’s like boxers vs ballet dancers. Or Graham Norton vs Louis Theroux. Well done The Traitors, Bobby Brazier and The 1% Club – 2022’s hottest new quiz. As host Lee Mack observed of rival quizmasters Bradley Walsh and Michael McIntyre having funny people host these shows works. They’re exactly what TV needs. More comedy, more joy, less relentless misery. 150minutes is way too long for a puffed-up ceremony that only exists because ITV sulkily decided they weren’t winning enough Baftas. I won’t take the NTAs seriously until categories make sense, every aspect of the voting is policed and they publish the figures.
*NTA irritations: No White Lotus, Winning Time, or Jack Reacher.
BAD news comes in threes, they say. It certainly did on Inheritance. First loaded widower Dennis popped his clogs, then his grown-up kids learnt that he’d floated to the great beyond on a wave of poteen, despite barely drinking. Finally, even more gutting, he’d cut them out of his will in favour of a floozy, his unmentioned new wife Susan. Their certainties started to crumble like aerated concrete. Son Dan, who’s restaurant is propped by loan shark money, is in a panic. Gulp. His sisters aren’t too chuffed either. Sian is a struggling single mum and Chloe’s dream marriage conceals a big soapy secret... The cops raided the crem to seize the corpse, but whodunit? Susan is too obvious. My money’s on her ex, Michael, Den’s one-time best mate played by Kevin Whatley with wild whiskers and hair-trigger fury. Or maybe that estate agent who valued Den’s gaff at just £600K. Dodgy git.
SONIA helped “Jaffa” Reiss come up with a sperm sample on EastEnders. “Why don’t I give you a hand?” she asked saucily. A lovely image. But a sad waste of her trumpet-blowing expertise. In fairness Reiss’s only alternative was to flick through the clinic’s ancient, well-thumbed copy of Walford Wives: Pauline Fowler – forget Cardi B, it’s cardie off! Dot Cotton – gets her fags out for the lads! Lou Beale – the last bed-bath! Claudette Hubbard – she didn’t have to kill again to top the “most wanted” list... Stiff competition.
HOT on TV: Justified: City Primeval (Disney)... Top Boy (Netflix)... Winning Time (SkyAt)... Nina Sosanya, Screw.
ROT on TV: Holly & Alison, This Morning – going together like oil and water... Gordon, Gino & Fred: Viva Espana – sal de mi TV.
LOTTIE Moss made her mind up about Adam on Celebs Go Dating. “I’m going to sack him off,” she said. Tsk. There’s never a subtitle cock-up when you want one... Lottie seemed shocked when date Max quipped he’d rather taste her than champagne. Really? She’s the one who loves asking strangers if they like “pegging”. Goose and gander, Lots. Cards on table, I was once coerced into pegging by my wife but in her defence it was very windy, and there was a load of washing to hang out.
On The Lovers, depressed shelf-stacker Janet was about to blow her brains out when she was bowled over by Seamus, cocky host of a political TV talk-show, fleeing a gang of feral Belfast teens. Janet swears like Gillian Keegan on a bad news day. And his immense ego is tempered by colossal idiocy – true-to-life, then. “I’m very good at listening,” he said, talking over her. Their chalk-and-cheese romance has one inconvenient problem – Frankie, his hot actress girlfriend back in London.
*THE Woman In The Wall. The man changing channels.
*MEL G & Martin Clunes’ book show? The Big Sleep.
Small Joys of TV: Jury Duty (Prime). Elizabeth Olsen, Love & Death (ITVX). I Am Groot (Disney+). Johnny Ringo (TPTV). This Morning tanking at the NTAs.
Random Irritations. On-message TV news never questioning the effectiveness of costly green measures like Ulez or the plague of under-achieving wind turbines.
Questions. Why can’t the BBC give Amol Rajan a booster seat on University Challenge? Why aren’t cosmetic surgeons better looking? How long can Ant’s hairline recede before he goes the full Mick Miller?
TV maths. Rolf Harris + Colonel Sanders = Dominico, Celebs Go Dating.
Classic clanger. Stuart Barnes was talking rugby when he remarked: “There isn’t a tight-head prop in the world who hasn’t taken a pounding from an older man.”
Sept 3. DECENT dramas are as rare as an unvandalized ULEZ camera in southeast London. The Woman In The Wall, set in rural Ireland, looked promising. It began with Lorna Brady asleep in her nightie in the middle of a country lane, being awoken from her slumbers by the sniffs and licks of passing cows... which sounds like the plot Emmerdale forgot. Or an adventurous episode of The L Word. But tormented Lorna is a tragic victim of the Magdalene laundries set up by Irish Catholic orders to “treat fallen women” largely by treating them as slave labour after stealing their newborn babies. The shocking practice only died out in 1996 which was when, as one survivor mentioned, “the f***ing Macarena was in the charts”.
The scandal deserves gritty realism, but this six-parter veers closer to a supernatural thriller, with amplified heart-beats, instant flashbacks and devil horns. It also had a penis cake joke that seemed to have wandered in from Father Ted: “Does it look like a penis, or does it taste like a penis?” “Oh Jesus Christ, I hope not.”
Brady’s baby was snatched from her at birth and the resulting trauma has stranded her on the further shores of sanity. Other women in the fictional County Mayo town of Kilkinure are teaming up to seek justice but she’s beyond rational protest. When former nun Aoife contacts her and suggests meeting in the local, Lorna gets so drunk she knocks herself out. Later, she finds the ex-nun dead inside her house, and hides her small corpse in a wall cavity. Well, it’s cheaper than spray-foam. She then torches the car belonging to the murdered priest who had kick-started her teenage nightmare. It’s taken Dublin detective Colman Akande – a victim of the same priest (Father Dread?) – to motivate the slacking local Garda. Ruth Wilson is mesmerising, but the drama is hard-going, drifting from drearily bleak to indulgently OTT.
MIDSOMER Murders conjured up more supernatural codswallop with psychic fayres, Tarot cards and pro-celebrity witchcraft. Warlocks, you ask? Yeah, a load of old ones. The show’s killer combo of violent death, lightweight whimsy and heavyweight guests was unmissable when Anthony Horowitz adapted the scripts. Now, it always seems the same. Barnaby and Winter encounter a succession of suspect characters, corpses pile up and then, what do you know, the real murderer turns out to be someone you’d barely noticed. In this case, the village unbeliever. At least Holly Willoughby survived. Few could forget the terrible fate of Martine McCutcheon, terminated by a giant cheese wheel, or Orlando Bloom who died at the business end of a hay fork.
*DID Holly struggle to deliver her lines on time? She’s always had a problem with cues...
THE dead walked on EastEnders as Cindy Beale returned to Walford despite the minor inconvenience of having died 25 years previously. Sinful Cindy casually let herself into the home of her former muvva-in-law (Kaff of Kaff’s caff). “Cindy? No. You’re dead! You died,” she cried. And a million viewers shouted back: “So did you, Kaff. Remember? They resurrected you in 2015.” Later “Fat-boy”, also assumed to be brown bread, appeared in a flashback to 2014. Will he walk the Square again too? There may still be hope for Reg Cox.
*DALLAS started the messy business of raising the dead when the late Bobby Ewing stepped out of the shower in 1986. TV twerps forget that two series later the Texas soap had lost a fifth of its viewers.
*WALFORD. Proof that inbreeding doesn’t lead to human extinction.
HOT on TV: Screw... Tahirah Sharif, The Tower... Hatton (SkyDocs)... Takeshi’s Castle (Prime).
ROT on TV: Sex-mad Dr Tara, Celebs Go Dating... Starstruck – I’m not struck.
BACK on Celebs Go Dating, Vanessa Feltz has gone out with four blokes – that’s double the viewers of her tanking Talk TV show. Mylene Klass popped by to tell Vanessa she’s “a catch”. Yeah, so’s chlamydia.
*ODDBALL sex guru Dr Tara keeps calling Lottie Moss “sex positive”. That means something very different for married couples, where the typical bedtime chat tends to be: “Fancy sex?” “No!” “You sure?” “Positive.”
*LOTTIE said her game plan for Fintan was “to tear him a new arsehole”. Not the best choice of words for someone into pegging, noted Rob Beckett.
THE Tower series two has ditched police corruption and the tower block’s starring role. Its only constant is hot cop Lizzie going under covers with her married DI boss. Good strong characters include Gemma Whelan’s lonely Sarah Collins – a drably-dressed, by-the-book detective with the glummest face this side of Deputy Dawg – and her sardonic sidekick “Fat Elaine”.
*ROBIN Hood fans avert your eyes, GB News reports that there’s now a nudist area in Sherwood Forest. It brings new meaning to the question, “Is that Will Scarlet?”
*THE Edinburgh Tattoo is losing its charm. Why not revive the Royal Tournament?
Small Joys of TV: Fight scenes on Warrior (SkyMax). Annie “Meemaw” Potts, Young Sheldon. Gillian Taylforth as rebel Rose on Hi De Hi! (Gold). Mayans MC (Disney+).
Random Irritations. News readers who pronounce temporary as “tempary”. News readers who throw in their opinions. The England rugby squad losing to flipping Fiji.
TV Maths. Janine Butcher + Tracy Barlow = Rebekah Staton.